I recently had to reflect on my experience as a black woman in the SEO industry for an upcoming podcast. This self-reflection led me to examine other influences on my career. One of the influences that I just could not ignore is being a parent and the challenges I had to overcome.
Why do I always feel the need to gloss over this topic? Surely it is a given that having children will impact your career. I recently carried out a Parents in Digital Marketing survey and of the 91 respondents to this survey, 50% agree that having a child has impacted their career. No surprise here, given that being responsible for keeping another human alive and thriving is a huge commitment. But does it affect your skills? Do you suddenly lose the ability to do your job well as a parent? Do you lose a part of your brain because you have a child to care for? If the answer is no, why does it seem to have such a massive impact on career progression?
Nearly half of the respondents (43%) to the survey said being a parent has affected their career progression.
Has being a parent affected your progression at work?
When we segment this data by gender, we see a story as old as time, women are still disproportionately affected. 57% of women said that being a mum had affected their career progression compared to just 23% of dads. Why are these figures so different? Are we more accepting of dads in the workplace? Do employers just assume working mothers will no longer prioritise their jobs or have scaled back their ambitions? Or do we just have a cultural bias against mothers?
Workplaces need to have an eye and ear for every staff member and be aware of unprofessional and unfavourable treatment by supervisors and managers who systematically bully women out of their position after maternity leave.
25% of the mums who said that being a mum had affected their career progression are currently MDs/Owners of businesses or agencies. 34% of mums who said their career progression had been affected are now senior managers.
I was told I would not be able to be a team lead if I was part-time after maternity leave. So, I set up my own company instead.
Level of Career (Mums who said being a mum had affected their career progression)
This shows that companies are losing competent talent. This should be a concern to employers as it is costly to recruit new talent. Never mind diversity, inclusion, and equality, the top buzz words in any company policy.
We talk about raising a future generation where gender equality is the norm, this is how to do it. A study conducted by Harvard Business School on working mums concludes “there are very few things.. that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother.”
What can employers do to support parents in the workforce?
58% of mums and 14% of dads have left a company because it was not accommodating to parents. So, what can companies do better? 66% of parents said flexible working patterns was the benefit they most sought after. Less than 20% stated maternity/paternity pay as a reason for leaving; so, money is not the driving force for many of these parents (although it is important given the astronomical cost of childcare). It is also worth stating that dads felt the most pressure to stay late at work. 40% of dads who responded mentioned this as one of the main challenges of work-life after becoming a parent compared to 16% of mums.
I would appreciate a greater understanding of individuals’ preferences. For instance, some Dads still go socialising a few times a week and see it as “part of the job” whereas I generally don’t go out at all because I’m sacrificing time with the kids every time I do. The stigma persists that you are boring and anti-social.
Research after research has been commissioned to review the experiences of mums in the workplace and the conclusions make for very sad reading. In today’s digital world, with all its connective technologies, you would think the digital industry would fare better. We have all the technology in place to make flexible working happen, but are we open-minded enough to not be biased against employees that take this up? Sadly, the general feeling is that this is still very much an issue. Several of the mums who responded to this survey left heart-breaking comments about how deeply this issue had affected their career and being the source of stress in their lives. Research has shown that employee productivity significantly increases when stress decreases (HRDirector). Yet, we continue to ignore the most common causes of stress in the life of working parents.
Working agency side has been very stressful as a parent. Almost every agency bar one I have worked for has inflexible working patterns and have taken my requests for any flexibility in a negative manner. These agencies, I have noticed have no working mum in mid-senior levels. I have contemplated going freelance just because of the stress I have faced in agencies and having to explain time and again the need for flexibility.
I once had a head of a department say to me that I, someone who worked from home, should not expect the same recognition or the same level of pay as someone who is in the office all the time, because being at home proved I am not as committed. At this point, I was commuting 3.5 hrs a day into work, 4 days a week and working from home one day a week. Still, my contributions were not recognised as valid because I worked from home one day a week, and that day was seen as a childcare day.
Being a mum made a huge impact on me as a person and my self-esteem. Everything about me changed. It took me a year to get my confidence back to be the professional I am. This is something that is not talked about or supported.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 1 in 3 mothers with school-aged children reported poor mental health as a result of home-schooling during the lockdown. I know several companies provide mental health support schemes, but how many companies provide specific support for parents in their workforce, especially for women returning to the workforce after maternity leave? Many shared experiences of being supported back to work by an HR manager with a clipboard asking the standard tick box questions without any real understanding of the impact. Most of the time, I do not think it is a deliberate attempt to marginalise parents, I believe it is just institutional thoughtlessness brought on by a lack of shared experience.
I chose to leave a demanding but fantastic job because I had less than three hours sleep a night and couldn’t get through the brain fog. I was devastated but they couldn’t offer me sufficient working from home flexibility to catch up on the sleep. Ironic now as the whole company is working from home indefinitely. Pre-baby, company is exceptional with nine months paid leave and regular check-ins. When you get back, there was no plan to check on how you cope with returning to work. I struggled on for about 10 months and felt increasingly exhausted and stressed. I finally broke and handed in my notice
Men don’t get fair treatment during parental leave. Their importance and feelings are ignored. It wasn’t just my company that was horrible towards me. My husband’s former company, in short, told him he didn’t need to be at the birth.
After I left a company, the HR manager contacted me online to apologise for the poor support I was given. She had just returned to work after having a child. She had only just begun to understand the lack of support for patents returning and was now pushing for more flexibility and better maternity pay within the company. I bear her no ill; she is a very lovely person and I am sure she did the best with the knowledge she had at the time.
It is not all bad news though, some companies are doing the right thing and creating flexibility for their parents. However, this should not be an exception. This should be the norm.
I recently became a father and I was treated fantastic. There was great attention to my situation and care for my well-being. This has made the whole process easy and the balance between work and private life is still in the absolute best condition.
As a father you bond with other senior men in the business, talking about shared experiences with your children. It’s clearly a different experience for women.
Parenting helped me to step in digital and find my profession.
As companies embrace new ways of working due to COVID 19, I hope this leads to the championing of a culture that allows parents to find ‘work that works’ for them so they do not have to compromise to find a rewarding career that fits around their family life.
*Data is based on 91 respondents. 56 mums and 35 dads